Flows Plant Care Guides Houseplant Safari

Houseplant Safari

Houseplant Safari post thumbnail image

Imagine the following scenario: you know so little about indoor plants that you have only a vague idea that most of them have leaves. You can probably identify a few species out of hundreds at the touch of a button. This may be unthinkable for our beloved indoor plants, but when it comes to the creatures that live on and around them, this is the norm. When you post a photo of a creature around your plants on social networks, the answer is often “kill it with fire!”

And yet, it is extremely useful to be able to correctly distinguish one animal species from another, regardless of your expertise in indoor plants. In this way, you know that the difference exists between the species that can harm plants and those that are harmless or beneficial. This saves us the unnecessary treatment of plants and allows us to find the right solution for the creatures that we don’t want them to live on our plants.

So, grab a hand lens and come with me to the indoor plant safari. Here are a few things you can find out along the way…

Mites are tiny arachnids: there are thousands of species, each with its own habits and appearance. Some live in birds’ nests, on bees and even on the bodies of nudibranchs (look around next time you see a large snail, you may be able to see a few scurrying around). Not to mention that there is a whole kind of mites that live on human skin. The mites that we treat the most are those that live on plants, but not all of them cause damage, and some are used as biological control for other pests of indoor plants.

The red spider mite, also known as the two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae), is the best known and the most feared, as it is a sap-sucking mite that damages indoor plants. The mite itself is too small to be seen with the naked eye, unless you have incredibly good vision: Instead, look for white granular deposits on the underside of the leaves, especially along the midrib, mite scale skins. In matter of a serious infestation, there will be strap (once things reach this point, the plant will probably be impossible to save). The mites themselves are visible at a magnification of 10x or more, but they are usually not bright red: more of a rusty brown. (Here’s a good video of their life cycle, and I dedicated an entire Podcast episode to this mite).

If you don’t have a lens on hand, but you still see a scarlet mite scurrying around, especially on terracotta pots that were in the sun outside, you will probably see one among a number of species known as the red velvet mite (illustrated above, at high magnification). The good news is that none of them feed on plants.

Have you spotted with the naked eye a mite that looks like a tiny white Balloon on legs moving at high speed on the ground or plants? I bet you’ve seen a mold mite (Tyrophagus putrescentiae). As the name suggests, they feed on mold and do not harm your indoor plants, although you may want to control the numbers when they are placed in your kitchen cabinets at home.

Turn the lens of your hand on the ground itself and you will probably see writhing translucent worms with Black Heads a little more than half a centimeter long: This is the larval stage of the fungus mosquito from the family of weeping midges. The adult animals that hover around our plants are certainly among the most annoying creatures that you will experience on an indoor plant safari: they are attracted by the carbon dioxide in their breath.

You can also spot the Hypoaspis mites (Stratiolaelaps scimitus), a predatory mite used as biological control, about 1 mm long and light brown. Finally, if you lift a child’s potty and find small shiny creatures that jump when you touch them, you will have a colony of springtails. These are part of the cleaning team that feeds on decaying plant materials. I talk about these practical little creatures in episode 167 of the On the Ledge Podcast.

I’ve just scratched the topsoil here, but I hope I’ve inspired you to think a little deeper about the houseplant biome and its inhabitants.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Post